DALLAS – It started off as a cakewalk for the Wild on Saturday night. Then it became a tightrope act.
But, after Jason Zucker scored a goal off his shoulder at 13 minutes, 15 seconds of the third period, one that gave his team a 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars, the Wild headed to Chicago as top dog in the Western Conference.
“That shows the resiliency we have as a group,” said Zucker, who started the winning sequence at American Airlines Center by forcing a turnover in the Stars end.
Mikael Granlund picked up the loose puck on the left side, and put a shot on net. Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen got a stick on it. The puck went high, hit a crashing Zucker on the right shoulder and went across the goal line before Zucker took the net off its moorings.
A greasy goal with a great result.
Just like you drew it up, right?
“I didn’t draw that up at all,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I will say I was pretty surprised by the first five minutes.”
Yes, the Wild came out strong, but goals on its first three shots? Mikko Koivu scored at only 79 seconds in with a shot that went off a Stars player. At 3 minutes, Eric Staal scored on a 2-on-1, looking off the defender before rifling it home. A minute later, Matt Dumba’s snap shot chased Dallas starting goaltender Antti Niemi. But at 12:45 of the first period, Chris Stewart tapped in Jordan Schroeder’s pass, putting the Wild up 4-0.
Dallas finally got on the board with 6.5 seconds left in the period. Shortly after a Stars power play, Dallas crossed the Wild blue line with numbers, and Radek Faksa’s backhand pass to Antoine Roussel beat Darcy Kuemper.
Cue momentum change.
The Stars’ Jiri Hudler scored 2:20 into the second and it was 4-2. Less than 4 minutes later Tyler Seguin pulled Dallas within a goal. Then, 11:13 into the third, after the Wild had squandered successive Stars penalties — including a 5-on-3 power play for 41 seconds — and with Staal in the penalty box, John Klingberg’s long shot from the point bounced past Kuemper and the game was tied.
But not for long. Just 122 seconds, to be exact. That’s when, on a night filled with pretty goals, the Wild won the game with a gritty one — marking the first time the team had ever come back to win after blowing a four-goal lead, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I know with [Granlund], he’s going to make some plays that I never dream of making,” Zucker said. “I just tried to get to the net and was hoping he’d make a shot or a pass there. And it happened to go in.”
Said Boudreau: “That’s what you need. That’s what good teams do. They push back. I mean, you could call it luck. But he went to the net. He did what you’re supposed to do. And when you do that, usually you get success.”
That said, Boudreau said more than once he would rather win by allowing one goal. But he will take it.
Shaky at times, Kuemper (34 saves) was tough down the stretch, cinching a win that put the Wild at 27-9-5 at the midway point in the season. The Wild now has points in 11 straight road games (9-0-2), one short of the franchise record.
And the Wild had a late flight to Chicago as the No. 1 team in the West. Both teams have 59 points, but the Wild has four games in hand.
Sunday’s game should be … exciting?
“Exciting is the wrong word,” Boudreau said. “We knew they are coming of off a pretty good beating [6-0 at Washington on Friday]. They had their day off taken away. They did battle drills all day. So, ouch. We know what we’re in for tomorrow.”